1. Nashville Predators
First place in the Central, 53-18-11
Why they can win – They almost took home the Cup in 2017 before bowing out to the Penguins in the Final. Still, they dragged the Pens to deep waters before that series was over. The Predators were a wild card entrant last season but sit atop the NHL standings this year. That’s largely thanks to their depth and talent at all positions. Filip Forsberg, Victor Arvidsson, and Ryan Johansen are all in the top five of the team in scoring while defensemen P.K. Subban and Roman Josi round it out.
Nashville doesn’t have the singular star in the traditional sense that will be towards the league lead in points. However, they saw 13 players reach double-digits in goals. That’s a very balanced attack to go along with a stout defense. Their strength is rolling four lines and playing rock solid hockey in front of goalie Pekka Rinne. He’s enjoyed a strong season and it’s hard to pick on a significant weakness for the Predators. Even if they aren’t the favorite for everyone, they enter as a top-three threat to hoist the Cup at the end.
Why they won’t – Most of the time whichever team wins the Presidents’ Trophy for best record doesn’t have the best track record of success in the playoffs. Of the last 16 Presidents’ Trophy winners, only four have lifted the Cup at the end of the season. They also sneered at tradition, which could be their ultimate doom.
Their greatest strength could turn in to a weakness in the playoffs. While the Predators have a bunch of very good players, they really lack the one player to count on for goals when the going gets tough. If the secondary scoring on the team goes away, do they have the top-end talent to produce goals? Can Forsberg or Johansen put the team on their back if it’s needed? Playoff hockey tends to favor teams that play a grind-it out style and can score from any line. It also doesn’t hurt to have an elite offensive talent to lean on.
X Factor – Ryan Johansen: It wasn’t that long ago that the young gun netted at least 25 goals in back-to-back seasons for the Columbus Blue Jackets. When the Predators gave up promising young defenseman Seth Jones, that had to be what they thought they would get. However, fast forward a little over two years and Johansen has scored 33 regular season goals for Nashville…total. If he can find the goal scoring touch that has mostly eluded him during his tenure in Nashville, the Predators would add another dimension and be even harder to knock out.
First Round Matchup – Colorado Avalanche; Predators won the regular season 4-0
Nashville should have no issue putting down the young upstart team from Colorado. They simply don’t have the skill, depth, or goaltending to keep up with the favorite in the field.
Prediction – Predators in 4